Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards Card Review: 1.5% Flat Cash Back (Up to 2.6% With Preferred Rewards)

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The new Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards Card is the most simple, straightforward, no-annual-fee credit card in the Bank of America line-up. If you are a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase the cash back earned by 25% to 75%. For such “relationship” customers, this boost can change this card from good to great. Here are the highlights:

  • New customers: $200 cash rewards bonus after $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days.
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Redeem as a statement credit, deposit to BofA bank account, or deposit to Merrill brokerage account (including 529).
  • 0% Introductory APR offer. See link for details.
  • 10% customer bonus when you have an active Bank of America checking or savings account.
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. See details below.
  • 3% foreign transaction fee.
  • No annual fee.

Preferred Rewards bonus. The Preferred Rewards program is designed to rewards clients with multiple account and higher assets located at Bank of America banking, Merrill Edge online brokerage, and Merrill Lynch investment accounts. Here is a partial table taken from their comparison chart (click to enlarge):


Let’s consider the options. Bank of America’s interest rates on cash accounts tend to be lower than highest-available outside banks (read: nearly zero), so moving cash over to qualify may result in earning less interest on your cash deposits. Merrill Lynch advisory accounts also usually come with management fees. The sweet spot is therefore the Merrill Edge self-directed brokerage, where you can move over your existing brokerage assets like stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs held elsewhere (Vanguard, Fidelity, Schwab, etc).

In the past, moving over to Merrill Edge at the Platinum and Platinum Plus levels also led to 30 to 100 free online stock trades every month. Fast forward to now, and nearly all major online brokers offer commission-free trades anyway.

Personally, I moved over $100k of brokerage assets from Vanguard to Merrill Edge to qualify for Platinum Honors. You should ask Merrill Edge if they will cover any ACAT transfer fees involved. I realize not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, but if you do then it is worth considering. Keep in mind that it will take a while for your “3-month average combined balance” to reach the $100k level and officially qualify for Platinum Honors. You might become Gold first, then Platinum, and so on. After that, the 25%-75% rewards bonus on credit card rewards kick in. Once you reach a certain tier, BofA guarantees that you will stay there for a year no matter what, even if your balance fluctuates.

Note that the terms state “The Preferred Rewards bonus will replace the customer bonus”, which means that you will lose the 10% customer bonus when you qualify for the 25% to 50% bonus.

Boosted cash back percentages with Preferred Rewards. The standard structure is a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases. Here’s how the numbers work out after you reach each tier:

  • Platinum Honors: 2.625% cash back on all purchases (75% bonus).
  • Platinum: 2.25% cash back on all purchases (50% bonus).
  • Gold: 1.875% cash back on all purchases (25% bonus).
  • BofA checking or savings accountholder: 1.65% cash back on all purchases (10% bonus).

I consider the bar set at 2% cash back to be considered a “great” rewards card. The Platinum and Platinum Honors levels allow you to surpass that bar. Again, not everyone will have this level of assets to move around, and so this offer is not available to everyone. BofA is willing to pay such high cash back on the credit card because they hope to make it back through their other products (banking, brokerage, loans).

Their plan worked on me because Bank of America has managed to convince me to go from only having a checking account with them to now also having a Merrill Edge brokerage account and a Bank of America credit card.

Comparison against other BofA credit cards. Not all Bank of America consumer credit cards qualify for Preferred Rewards. Other cards of interest that do qualify are:

Honestly, these are all solid cards if you qualify for Preferred Rewards. I can see any one of them being a good choice for those that want relatively simple rewards after setting up a “relationship” with BofA.

My slight personal favorite is the Travel Rewards credit card. The rewards structure on the Travel Rewards is similar to the Unlimited Cash Rewards card including the 1.5% back (up to 2.62% with Preferred Rewards) earning rate and no annual fee, except that the rewards can only be used to offset past travel and dining purchases made on the card in the past 12 months. I have redeemed thousands of dollars in statement credits and never run out of travel/dining purchases to offset. Their redemption process is quick and easy. One difference is that the Travel Rewards has no foreign transaction fee, while this Unlimited Cash Rewards card has a 3% foreign transaction fee. Together, this makes the Travel Rewards card a great “catch-all” card that I always have in my wallet. You may prefer the Unlimited Cash Rewards card if you have very little travel/dining charges.

The Premium Rewards card may be better if you can reliably utilize the $100 annual Airline Incidentals credit (seat upgrades, baggage fees, lounge fees) to offset the $95 annual fee, as then the increased cash back on travel/dining is all net profit. The Customized Cash Rewards cards with its 3/2/1 structure is also tempting as a companion to the Travel/Unlimited Cash, but you may prefer other rewards card for specific categories.

Bottom line. The Bank of America Unlimited Cash Rewards Credit Card is an “okay” cash back rewards card with a 1.5% cash back on everything structure, but turns into an “excellent” 2.62% cash back rewards card if you can take full advantage of their Preferred Rewards program. If you transfer $100,000 of existing brokerage assets (could be ETFs or mutual funds) over to Merrill Edge, you can qualify for the highest Platinum Honors tier. This won’t be a good option for everyone, but something to be aware of if you can swing it.

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  1. I agree that this card isn’t very compelling. Especially given the new card offerings from most companies are having to be very rich with rewards to compete. They will get BofA customers to sign up, but that is about it. The new active cash card from Wells Fargo and the Citi double cash cards are better for straight up every day users.

  2. I’m confused about why it needs to be 100k from existing brokerage? A cash transfer into Merrill Edge doesn’t qualify?

    • You are welcome to transfer in 100k in cash, but the difference in the interest paid at BofA/Merrill vs. another option may not be worth the added Preferred Rewards perks.

    • Its combined cash balances in all your accounts aggregate average over 3 months.
      If you really wanted to qualify for preferred rewards but thought their interest on cash sucked, you can put 100k in a checking account, qualify for preferred after three month, and then take it out. You can technically go to a dollar in an account after you’ve activated your preferred rewards and stay in the program for a year. After a year they contact you and say you don’t qualify anymore and give you three months to bring balance back up.

      You have to have a checking account to qualify for preferred rewards. So you could have a checking and merill, checking and savings, checking and credit card. It doesn’t matter.

  3. Any bonuses available now for opening Merrill Edge accounts?

  4. I think I’m going to wait until they’ve got a cash bonus for Merrill Edge to open that account.
    The way I see it Bank of America kind of rolls their bonuses. They hope to “deepen” a relationship with you, so you’re probably better doing it over a period of time, taking advantage of bonuses as you go to each new product rather than dumping in all at once.

    Everyone should understand that your preferred rewards ability is an average of three month aggregate balances. After you qualify and activate the preferred rewards status (just click yes in their app), you get the benefits for a whole year whether you keep the balances or not. So you can take your balance all the way down to a dollar and still collect the cash back on the cc at your preferred rewards level (gold, platinum, platinum honors).

    After a year they contact you and say “Hey…you no longer qualify based on your balances. Want to keep the program? Move money in.” You get three months to do so at which time you can repeat the whole process.

    You must have a checking account to get preferred rewards. So…you can have a checking and savings, checking and merrill, checking and credit card.

    The other bonuses are good. Free checks (my credit union charges $60 for checks, so this is not a small thing), free cashiers checks. Foreign currency shipped to you for free ($30 savings. My Cu again-not a service they offer) A priority client service line. Interest rate booster. Account fees waived. ATM fees waived at different amounts depending on your level. A home loan with no origination fees and a point discount on your interest rate depending on your level. Auto loan discount.

    But there are catches. There were quarterly limits on earning that preferred bonus on your cc and the app didn’t tell you about when you had hit your limit. I found it too hard to keep track of that and went to citi 2% back for that reason. Only used the BOFA card one place for the choice category.
    The big thing for me is Bank of America is sucking right now. As they update and open new branches they are small and not staffed well. They’ve totally gotten rid of the teller line. They want you to use their ATMS, but they don’t work for a lot of stuff. You’ve got to wait for a banker to come out of an office between appointments to help with cash transactions. If you do get a branch with a teller they only have ONE. You’ve got to wait in line behind hoards of people who aren’t even customers there and want to cash checks, get money from the unemployment cards and what not. So you can keep a 100k there and your service will be the same as the person that can’t open a bank account anywhere. Fees at Merrill are high. Between 100k and a million there is no additional perks. Million is where you get their wealth management and with what they charge, I am not into that.

    I think Chase is a bit classier. Branches are better, Cards are better. Staff is mature and more knowledgeable. Bank of America is hiring a lot of 20 year olds that don’t know what a 401k is. Not age discrimination, but I’d be surprised if they’d filed taxes yet. I don’t consider someone like that a banker with good advice. They just want to sell you crap. And god forbid if you’ve ever got a problem with bank of america. Things like their fraud department…you can’t talk to them. Hour waits for customer service. I feel like they’re not far off from Wells Fargo in terms of how they view their customers. But then they’ve got this added level of scum they bring in to their branches with unemployment cards and what not. And sorry, they do kind of seem scummy and fraudulent if they’re collecting unemployment at a bank that isn’t theirs. Most people just have it deposited to their account. I’ve waited in line forever behind those people. Bank of America has had a lot of fraud issue with California unemployment. They’re always embroiling themselves in something like that for a quick buck. So…I most definitely don’t want my life savings there, but more than happy to take advantage of their bonuses until they turn their attitude around.

  5. I’ll add..
    They also have good, streamlined refis available for Preferred members. But when I dove into it at their branch it was going to take over two months! They don’t have enough staff apparently.
    So…thats what I mean by their bonuses for preferred rewards look good on paper, but in reality they just aren’t there. I think the cc cash back bonus is the best if you want to hassle with it.
    Does anyone think they’ll up their bonus in a bit for this card?

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